Thursday, February 28, 2008

HiFi 06 : Marantz CD5001

I like hifi, but those mega-buck systems generally leave me cold. I mean, the music is the message, isn't it?

Okay, I know a system has to be good enough to convey the nuance, subtlety and dynamics of the sound so that the music can be appreciated, but many high-end systems seem to me to have more in common with a SUV rather than a Prius ... Yes, you could say Maserati rather than an Aztec, but high-end systems rarely strike me as masterpieces of Italian engineering, rather more like a blinged-out hummer.

Until recently, the single disc CD player was a dying breed. Like the record turntable before it, it was in turn being superseded by the latest multi-format disc players with a price point up in the stratosphere.

However, I'm glad to say, that like the record turntable, the basic CD player is also making a comeback, presumably as people discover that the latest and biggest home-entertainment rigs do not reproduce music as well as a modest dedicated stereo system can.

For my system I have chosen a Marantz CD5001. It has everything I want, digital output, head-amp and most importantly, a great sound. Plenty of bangs per buck.

I have it connected to the Sansui AU-317 via QED Silver Spirals - hmmm ... exotic hifi connectors ... there's another topic - which seems to work well as far as I can tell through my Sennheiser HD580s.

*See my hifi / media index here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

PAFC : Plymouth 3 - Burnley 1

Well, things are looking up after the wobbles at the start of the year. It hardly seems possible that Argyle have worked themselves back into the playoff zone.

Having said that I'm not certain that another year consolidating in the Championship wouldn't be a good idea, but hey, strike while the iron's hot!!!

Go for it!!!

Because hasn't caution always been the line? The Board really would have to put their money where their mouth is. And frankly, so would the fans ... attendance is down on what Argyle were getting a couple of years ago.

Okay, it's easy for me to say from here, but in my little fantasy I'm stood in the Care in the Community section of the Mayflower stand complaining about The Greens and loving every minute of it ...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gratuitous Newfie Reference

What's this? An unprincipled bid to raise traffic on my blog?

Well, yes. Here's Bella and me. Bella is the intelligent looking one. She's seven years old and a very big Newfoundland. Passers-by often refer to her as a bear.

Now I've always been a cat person, but Bella has convinced me that there are some nice dogs.

Speaking of blog traffic, these are the topics that are currently bringing my audience flooding in; Adele, Sansui AU-317 amplifier, Noxon iRadio and fish'n'chips.

Adele : Joe's Pub NYC, part II

For those of us who missed out on tickets to see Adele at Joe's Pub, a reprieve ...

There was a hint and also a gap in the Joe's Pub schedule the day before Adele's March 18 show, and it so happened that when I checked out what was going on this morning Joe's had announced an additional show on the 17th.

Click here fast if you want tickets.

*See my hifi / media index here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On 'Yer Bike!!!

It's that time of year again when thoughts turn to getting back on my bike. Okay, so it's really been a while since I've been a regular rider. I did a couple of reasonable rides last year, but I'm feeling that I want to get back into the swing of things. In fact, I am thinking that I might even have a go at an Audax Century.

I have a couple of bikes, both Treks. Treks seem to suit me, but I'm not an adherent. I'd look at other manufacturers. In reality who knows who makes what where anyway?

My road bike is a Trek 1200. A pretty good, basic model. The components could be better, but they're certainly functional. I ride a smaller frame than most bike shops would recommend for my height - 1.90m - but I prefer this. It does mean I need a nice long seat-pin. The one that came with the bike suffices, but a longer one might give me a little more adjustment in the future.

I'm currently in the process of preparing the bike for the spring. I had to do something about the tyres since punctures are a real problem here - roads don't get swept and there are lots of sharp debris by the side of the road.

I got some new Continentals from ProBikeKit back in England. Half the price of good tyres here and they arrived in three days. I will be using PBK again ...

I also have a Trek6000 mountain bike. More about that another day, but I think my riding will be very conservative. It hurts more and more when you fall off as you get older!

Apart from getting myself and my bike ready I have joined Princeton FreeWheelers. I shall swan into their AGM in March and then try and resist going on 100 mile rides ... They seem a bit like the Cyclists' Touring Club - the badge says it all - when it comes to organised rides and in the past I didn't get on with the style, but I'll give it a go.

There are also a number of resources for planning rides around here:

I'll let you know how it all goes ...
* see my Bike Index here

Thursday, February 14, 2008

HiFi 05 : Project Classic Cherry Turntable

The last few years have seen a resurgence of good, old-fashioned LPs. I guess there are a number of reasons for this; the number of people who still have substantial numbers of old records stacked away, but also a considerable attraction is the sheer physicality of those huge black vinyl discs and the transparent way they convey music.

Do BVDs sound better than CDs? Well, they're certainly different but for me, sound more lyrical and when the music needs it and more visceral when the bass really kicks in.

Through the whole of the CD revolution I maintained an ability to play LP records, firstly with a turntable I built using a platter kit and an Audio-Technica arm, then, for convenience a Dual 504 and lately, a Project Classic Cherry turntable.

Of course, the Project was built for the European market and thus runs on 220v/50Hz, while the US supply is 110v/60Hz. Elsewhere I have found a solution to supply 220v in a US household, but the controlling factor on this type of turntable drive is the 50Hz cycle, while US supply is at 60Hz.

Henley Designs, the UK supplier of the Project turntable were very helpful and were able to supply a 110v/60Hz motor. This was a fairly simple job to install, but it did require a small amount of soldering, so it wasn't completely straight forward.

There were a couple of glitches along the way; although Henley supplied the right motor, they included a 50Hz pulley and also in the move I lost the turntable drive belt. Worse, at some point, the tone arm had gained some play on the gimbals which had to be addressed.

Fortunately, it's the age of the internet and the belt and pulley problem was easy to address via Elex Atalier. Finding a tool to adjust the arm bearings was more difficult, but I eventually sourced one with The Needle Doctor.

Installing the belt was simple enough, but the bearings were more difficult since there really wasn't any information on how to do it. Henley only told me it was a very skilled job for one of their technicians. So it really was up to me ...

Even with the tool the bearings have a lot of stiction. Each adjustment seemed to go in little jerks. What I did was to incrementally tighten the bearings until I could feel no more play, and then backed up slightly and checked again for play. I've no idea if this is the correct process, but it seems to work; the bearings seem very free, but with no play at all.

All this has been well worthwhile. It sounds good and I think the only future upgrade may be a better cartridge when the current one is in need of replacement.

I am slowly in the process of bringing over the best of my collection and I am also really lucky that Princeton Record Exchange is very close and has a huge inventory of used LPs and a fair few new ones. More about PREX another day ...

*See my hifi / media index here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

PAFC : Phew!!!!

Haven't Plymouth Argyle been through the doldrums lately?

There they were, travelling hopefully on the borders of the promotion zone when they lose their manager / coach, Ian Holloway to Leicester City. As seems usual in this situation, the manager declares undying love for his club a week or so before uprooting and toddling off elsewhere.

And, apart from regaining one of the Argyle's most successful managers ever, Paul Sturrock, the team have gone on to not only lose a succession of their star players, but also their winning form.

But revenge is sweet. Despite a series of lacklustre performances since Boxing Day last year, yesterday - 9.2.2008 - Argyle managed to beat Leicester 0-1.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stuff 01 : Rio Karma Music Player

I suppose it's inevitable that when you think about .mp3 music players the first one that springs to mind is the Apple iPod. So deeply has this item entrenched in our culture that it has become a generic term in itself, just like in the UK all vacuum cleaners are Hoovers and all vacuum flasks are Thermoses.

It's a pity because there are some other good, and I dare say, even better .mp3 players out there. Linda got a Zune for Christmas and I think it's a pretty good job. I'd like one myself except for one important feature. A large percentage of my music collection has been digitised using either the .ogg codec or the .flac lossless compression codec and currently the Zune cannot play those codecs, although there are rumours of firmware updates in the future ... yeah! right!!!

.ogg is a superior form of lossy codec, similar to .mp3, but with advantages in the performance / listening area. .flac is the hifi of digital codecs and when used with clients such as ExactAudioCopy and addons such as AccurateRip provide computer music files which enable rendition as good as the original source material. More about this in a future blog ...

So it was as much as by luck as good judgment that several years ago I bought a Rio Karma .mp3 player. Luck, because at that time I was not aware of developments such as lossless codecs and gapless play. At first it seemed quite clunky compared to the iPods then available. But as a piece of ergonomic design it sits in your right hand and as well as playing music files enables you to compile play lists, adjust the 5-bad equalizer and lots of other refinements unique to the Karma all without interrupting the music.

Added to the equation is its excellent amplifier which can even drive my Sennheiser HD-580s to high volume and 15 hour battery life, this was a compact device with seriously hifi credentials. For sure it had weaknesses, especially in its software interface and Hitachi HDD. This saw the death of my first two Karmas. Touch wood my current example is lasting well.

Naturally, everybody bought iPods and the Karma remained a cult item until it was stopped being manufactured a few years ago. However, you only have to listen to one rendering a .flac encoded track through the very best headphones to realise this really is a little gem.

Now the few remaining working examples are much sought after and also the subject of fairly extreme modding in order to keep them going.

For a long time it looked as if we'd never see the likes of it again, but about a year ago a German company, TrekStor introduced the Vibez which utilised and built upon much of the electronics and firmware it had acquired from Rio.

By all accounts it is excellent and a big improvement in many areas, although I hear the amplifier is not in the same class as the Karma, necessitating using an additional headamp for critical use.

*See my hifi / media index here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

SuperTuesday: NJ, USA

As Super Tuesday gets closer I said to myself that if any of the US Presidential front runners of any persuasion came close to here I would make a point of going out to see them in action.

As the race has gone on it seems that the field has whittled itself down to John McCain for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democrats.

As it happens, today, it was Barack Obama who was appearing at New Jersey's Meadowlands Center, so I scooted up the New Jersey Turnpike to have a look at someone who might yet become the President of the United States of America.

I lined up with thousands of others in the wintry sleet to get into the main arena. There was an intense amount of energy about, not really at the level you might expect if you've ever seen any of that old US political convention footage, but of people really looking for something new. What was really noticeable was the number of young people and people of colour - as they say here - who seemed totally committed to Obama's cause.

There were a fair few opening remarks as you'd expect at a gathering such as this, but, speaking as someone who is really an outsider and with no means of establishing the degree of integrity of these people, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark certainly knew how to make a speech and impressed me greatly.

However, the real proceedings were set off by Robert de Niro - yes, that Robert de Niro ... a big surprise for everyone in the hall - who introduced Senator Edward (Teddy) Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy - JFK's daughter.

Nobody can deny that Obama has a fair degree of charisma and had the audience eating out of his hand. What was surprising to me was the degree of liberalism - as they call it here - which wouldn't have been unusual at a British Labour Party conference before Blair.

The Democrats seem to have an embarrassment of riches, having already had a candidate, who could have undoubtedly taken on the reins of office at least as well as anybody in the last 40 years, drop out and are still left with a choice between two serious candidates, one black, one a woman ...

I'm sure Democrats will make the best choice. Will America?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Adele : Joe's Pub NYC

Okay ... so maybe it's hype, but I don't know ...

I first heard of Adele only a few weeks ago. The Guardian deconstructed her "Chasing Pavements" video, which admittedly is rather strange. But what came through for me was this really rather extraordinary performance from a woman who is barely nineteen. Jeez!!! Her mum's young enough to be my daughter fer'g'ness sake!!!

Well, I daily, diligently trolled, via the web, the most likely place Adele might play in NYC, or at least near to here, but to no avail ... Checked Joe's Pub this evening ... Adele to play 18 March, 2008. Check box-office ... SOLD OUT!!!! Pah!!!!!!!

How annoying ... oh well ...

Update : 23.02.2008 >>>
*See my hifi / media index here.